Small-town phone box

I used to long to travel. It’s a big world and I wanted to see it. It didn’t seem promising for awhile.

My hopes for a semester in England never happened. My uncle’s invitation to tour Egypt with him had to be declined because I couldn’t get time off from work. I never made it out of North America until I was in my forties. I’ve now been to a tiny, relatively undiscovered island in the Caribbean. I’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and haltingly managed serviceable Italian during an unforgettable ten days spent in a villa about an hour from Rome. And I’ve been to Pennan.

Pennan, if you don’t know, is the small Scottish town where the Eighties film “Local Hero” was shot. It’s a tiny string of buildings below a cliff on the North Sea, and the iconic red phone box is still there. I have a picture of me there. We took a picture for the Russian tourist who was there that dreary gray day. He loved the movie, too.


That film, for me, epitomized the charm of small towns. At the end, when the American returns to his empty Houston penthouse, picks up the phone, and calls that red phone box across the world, I was sure he was calling to say he was coming back for good.

I found a couple of places that felt like Pennan during my trip to the U.K. I fell in love with a tiny town in Kent, where the pub owner was welcoming, and cats and dogs wandered the roads unconcerned. I imagined my life in a village in northern Scotland with the most glorious gardens I’ve ever seen. And there’s a house on the bluff above Pennan that seemed to be calling me.

When I went to Scotland, I was surprised at how familiar it all looked. So it was no surprise to discover that parts of upstate New York were settled by immigrants from Scotland. It looked like home to them.

I suspect that’s part of the lure of Delaware County for me. I do not live in Scotland. But there are times when I look around me at the wooded hillsides and the rolling meadows, and I feel like I do.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.